The forest in Against the Storm does not want you to settle it; the Queen you work for requires you to. In each settlement you establish, this is the most visible tension. A red bar ticking up for her impatience, for time taken and unfulfilled tasks. A blue bar for your reputation, filled by happy settlers, explored glades, and successful requisitions. You ‘win’ by filling up one before the other.
You begin each settlement in a small glade surrounded by woodland, with randomly generated and distributed resources. You have access to a few buildings for basic shelter and to farm resources – but no guarantee that the resources you want to farm are anywhere near you.
Say I’m lucky enough to acquire a blueprint for a public baths as a reward for improving my reputation, or that it’s made available for sale from a traveling merchant. Harpies love baths, but only if they have cosmetics – which means I either have to trade for them with surplus goods, or create them myself, assuming I have access to both the raw ingredients and the building blueprints to refine them. Without the means to keep my settlers happy, the other easiest way to expand my reputation and resources is through chopping my way through to new glades, farming its own resource: hostility.
The growing hostility of the forest you are encroaching on is the only guarantee from each settlement. It grows as you cut wood, necessary to feed the hearth that builds your settlers resolve. It grows as you explore new glades, filled with resources you need to feed, clothe and provide amenities for your settlers. It grows each year as new settlers arrive, bringing with them both potential for more expansive labor, and their own needs to be met.
Hostility makes your settlers less willing to stay and work – if it chips away too much at their resolve, they’ll simply start leaving. To keep their resolve up, you need to devote even more to specialized housing, complex food, to fulfilling their needs for leisure, luxury, and religion. Unlike the steady and reliable growth of hostility, satisfying your settlers’ needs involves wrangling randomness, that compounds on randomness.
The interesting thing at play here is that this particular friction – between the chaos of trying to build a functional settlement, and the inevitability of the land pushing back on you – isn’t the one the game visibly surfaces. The two competing progress bars, that call Win or Lose, place that conflict in the background, as your success is predicated not only on surviving, or thriving, but on fulfilling tasks. It isn’t enough to survive against all odds – for the purpose of your task list, that’s simply assumed. With the requirements of requisitioned goods, trade reputation, and exploration targets, Against the Storm handwaves that and asks: are you good at your work?
Ruth Cassidy is a writer and self-described velcro cyborg who is between internet homes. You can find their portfolio at muckrack.com/velcrocyborg.